A lot of you probably don’t know that my maiden name is Aceto. In Italian this literally means vinegar. Seriously! The next time you’re at an Italian grocery store or even looking at balsamic vinegar you’ll probably see Aceto on the label. I enjoy telling people who speak Italian this and also while in Italy I would always make reservations under ‘Aceto’ because I could say it how the Italians pronounce it and they would never be confused or ask how to spell it. My husband finds it funny when I would tell people that my last name was Aceto because he would always make the joke about how it speaks to my personality. *eye roll* At any rate, it was definitely a goal for me to head to Modena during my time in Italy to learn more about my favorite ‘Aceto’…..Aceto Balsamico.
I grew up around balsamic vinegar. Mainly because my Italian grandfather would keep the gallon jug of it in the cabinet and put it on all of his salads. I really enjoyed the flavor but little did I know that the cheap stuff he was pouring all over his salad wasn’t even really balsamic! Strike that. It wasn’t real Aceto Balsamico di Modena. You know. The good stuff. Or maybe you don’t really know which is why I’m sharing this information with you today!
To start, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is produced from cooked grape must, aged at least 12 years, and protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. Grape ‘must’ is freshly crushed grape juice containing the skins, stems and seeds of the grape. This is the only ingredient that is found in Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The must is aged in a barrel set, which is a series of 5 wooden barrels arranged according to decreasing size. This vinegar only is ready after 12 or 25 years for bottling. The vinegar is only authentic if bottled in a patented 100 ml glass bottle and stamped with the PDO seal of authenticity. This isn’t the type of vinegar that you would use every day on a salad, this is more used as a flavor enhancer for various dishes, cheeses and chocolates.
The second type of Aceto Balsamico di Modena, while still the highest of quality, is comprised of the grape must and the addition of wine vinegar. This vinegar must be aged a minimum of 60 days and those that are aged longer (approximately 3 years) are labeled “invecchiato” (aged). In 2009, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena was registered as an IGP by the European Union. Under this certification, all bottles that carry this label must only include grapes produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia region. Many producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar also produce this variety in larger production facilities.
So now that the logistics are out of the way I wanted to share some photos from my visit to Aceto Balsamico del Duca, a producer of both types of balsamic vinegar! It was such a delight to learn the history of the family and this producer that has been crafting such an amazing product for over 100 years! We toured the room where their barrel sets were kept and were able to see a cask from 1897 that is still in use.
Following our tour of the aging room for the traditional balsamic vinegar, we headed over to their larger production facility where the PGI vinegar is produced and bottled. Mariangela Grosoli, who heads up Aceto Balsamico del Duca, personally showed us around her facility, explaining all of the details of production. This type of vinegar production is done in much larger quantities but still closely monitored to make sure that they are delivering the best, most high quality of product. Before the vinegar is bottled, it must be tested by expert tasters and technicians to be certified as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
So how do you know if you’re buying authentic balsamic vinegar from Modena? There are two labels that clearly define that the balsamic vinegar is authentic:
Look for these labels on the bottle to ensure that you are buying authentic balsamic. Chances are if you’re buying a $2 bottle of balsamic vinegar, this is just a condiment made to taste like balsamic, also known as wine vinegar.
Following our tour and a tasting of both vinegars produced by Aceto Balsamico del Duca, we were treated to an amazing balsamic lunch at Ristorante Strada Facendo in Modena. Chef Emilio Barbieri personally presented us with each of our courses from his Michelin rated kitchen specially prepared with Aceto Balsamico di Modena in mind. Never have I see balsamic vinegar used in so many different applications, all adding the perfect finishing touch to each dish.
I just wanted to extend a special thanks to the Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena, Aceto Balsamic del Duca and Ristorante Strada Facendo for hosting such an amazing and educational day in Modena! Be sure to check out the Consortium’s website for inspiration on incorporating Aceto Balsamico di Modena into your own cooking.